A new way to treat addictions and compulsions
The root of any addiction or compulsion is deprivation: deep-seated, buried, chronic deprivation.
The link is often not apparent at first, and the idea of losing the need to control to gain control might seem too contradictory to fathom - especially when we are in the midst of a painful addiction.
If we were to peel back, one layer after another, to the root of what now seems to be an unruly beast, we often find a tender seed of deprived need.
Sometimes, the link is clear. Perhaps as a child we were chronically deprived of warmth and attention, and as our yearning for affection grows and festers, we become love-addicted, recognition-hungry, overly needy.
Other times, the route from the surface symptom to its origin is not quite direct; it is covered up with detours of denials, avoidance, trials and errors.
Often not realised is that sensitive, empathic and intense people need a higher than normal level of intellectual, sensory and emotional input.
Because of their innate excitabilities, and the capacity to absorb and process a vast amount of information, they need a consistent supply of rigorous, ‘good quality’ stimulations, from a multitude of sources.
Physical activities, sensual comfort, emotional depth, intellectual discourse, cultures, adventures and having varieties in life - these are the essential nutrients for their health and optimal functioning.
When we have been chronically deprived of fun, joy, and relaxation, we may resort to comfort food, compulsive sex, overspending, excessive drinking, gambling, even stealing - just anything that would allow us to experience the giddiness of following our hearts instead of the laid down ‘should's’.
Our inner critical adult might say we are lazy, immoral, out-of-control, lacking in consciences, or even beyond help.
But as we quiet down, and peel back one layer, we may see a mischievous teenager, stifled by the social and cultural confines, desperately gasping for a stamp of autonomy.
As we dig deep and peel back another layer, we discover a child that was being silenced, deprived of joy and play, desperately floundering for some room for some spontaneous expressions.
Keep peeling back, and we would eventually find an infant who just wants to know he is deeply loved, that his existence is justified. He wants to hear that he could just ‘be’ without having to ‘do’ anything, meet any expectations, or to become anything other than what he is.
We now have a complete paradigm shift to how we ‘treat’ our addictions and compulsions.
If we see that it was precisely self-imprisonment that has caused the problem in the first place, we realise we do not need any more control, rigidity, and self-denigration. Instead of deprivation and reduction, think abundance and expansion.
To our ordinary thinking, this proposition is scary. You mean we give that insatiable child more sweets, so he would no longer have to steal and hoard? You say we allow that lazy girl to have fun, so she would discover for herself the joy of working? How could this work? What if they get even more out of control?
Well, could the situation be any worse than what it is now? If yes, well, maybe we have not come to the ‘rock-bottom’ moment of our addictions yet. If not, what we have been doing has not been working; it is time to try a different way.
Perhaps you feel guilty when you take in pleasure.
But see if you could reverse your thinking, and realise self-love is a public service. By allowing yourself to take in pleasure and take your place in the world, you are demonstrating dignity, self-respect and accountability for your own well-being.
If you had been a parent, a model or a teacher to anyone; or, if you had been a pet owner, you would know that the best gift is ultimately given only via your presence.
But you could not ‘give love’ the way you would with a physical gift - you do so by being fully present and attentive, and more importantly, by embodying and demonstrating it. You become the best gift to the world by loving yourself into your full potential.
People do not flourish via ways of punishment or discipline; in the same way, you cannot criticise your way to your best self.
Compassion is relational - whether it be between you and another, or between different parts of yourself.
You deserve all the pleasure you can savour because that is the vehicle to self love and, ultimately, it is only when your well is full that your resources can flow outward to others and the wider world.
If you are suffering from addictions or compulsions of any kind, ask yourself if what you might need is more relaxation, comfort, fun, joy, excitement, human contact, or authentic expression. Then, consider nourishing yourself back into wholeness.
Take in joy, follow excitements.
Do not let the myth of productivity and your primitive fear of being ‘not enough’ get the better of you.
Try taking an afternoon for a nap. Try having an abundance of nutritious food that you actually enjoy, not what the dietitian say is ‘good for you’. Try getting a massage, ignoring all the noises that say you do not have the time to or could not afford it. Drop that fear-of-missing-out, work drink, reunion, small talk; go for solitude if you desire it. Or, drop the isolation and call up a friend you have not seen in a long time. Try, for once, not doing what you ‘should’ do, but what makes your heart sing.
For that child inside of you that feels the need to rebel, and scream for addictive vices, the only way to calm him down is by allowing him, not threatening him; through giving him more, not taking away from him.
Be brave enough to nourish yourself fully, and the rest will follow.
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About Imi Pui Yin Lo
Imi is an award-winning mental health professional, a Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, and author of Emotional Intensity and Sensitivity (Hodder & Stoughton, 2018). She specializes in emotional intensity, sensitivity, giftedness, childhood trauma, complex PTSD and borderline personality traits. She is the founder of Eggshell Therapy and Coaching.